Mentally ill artists reveal inner world:
Awakenings exhibit shows their growth
SEPTEMBER 20, 2000
DAILY HERALD (where?, Illinois)

Art galleries are often filled with paintings and sculptures that capture the world surrounding artists.  But the Awakenings exhibit of paintings and sculptures shows the artists' worlds within.

"There's pretty art, and then there's art from your soul," says Kate Petitt, an Awakenings artist from Naperville.

The Awakenings Project is a coalition of artists who live with mental illnesses ranging from schizophrenia to obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Each artist's story is unique: One uses watercolor to express the death of her twin.  Another arranges on one backdrop various sketches that chart his moods over a span of several months.

Photographer Robert Lundin of Glen Ellyn is founder and co-director of the project.  He agrees that the exhibit is a personal message from the artists.

"This is art with feeling, power and an artistic message that tells about oneself," Lundin said.

Death is expressed by one artist with heavily textured brown and black acrylic paints on canvas.  Several of the artists use collages or bright colors to celebrate peace and independence.

All the artists use their art as an opportunity to grow as individuals and as artists, said Irene O'Neill, co-director of the project.

"The Awakenings Project develops people's ability to talk about their work and process it by speaking to others," O'Neill said.  "We are getting out in the community and letting people know that we are more than people with illnesses.  We also have all this talent to share."

The work of 16 Awakenings artists is on display through Nov. 26 on the third floor at the Aurora Public Art Commission, 20 E. Downer Place in Aurora.

The Awakenings Project was formed in 1996 after Lundin ran across some psychological research by Johns Hopkins psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison in her book, "Touched With Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament."  Her work traced the correlation between mood disorder and creative genius, and sparked Lundin's idea for an art show.

"I figured that if her correlation is accurate, and we go ahead and hold an art show, we would get a very talented group of artists," he said.

In the spring of 1997, at at NAMI-IL (National Association for the Mentally Ill) conference at the Lisle-Naperville Hilton, Lundin and O'Neill were expecting maybe a dozen artists to bring work for the show.  Instead 70 artists from around the state brought a total of 300 pieces to be shown.

The project is supported by grants, art sales, honoraria and donations.  The artists recently received a grant from the DuPage Community Foundation for studio space in Glen Ellyn.

Since that first show in 1997, the artists of the project have been invited to show at more than 10 venues, including the NAMI-National Convention, the ARC (Artists Residents of Chicago) Gallery, and the Oak Park Art League.

"The shows," Lundin says, "were a smash since day one"


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